For a long while, ESPN and its divisions were regularly blamed for overall Disney financial issues. Lately, though, even with the many issues for ESPN and other sports networks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Disney sports side has been a brighter point for the wider company. And a big part of that is about streaming service ESPN+, which noted 7.6 million subscribers in February, 8.6 million in August (despite months of COVID-19 sports shutdowns), and 10.3 million as per their Q4 update Thursday. Here’s more on that from Sports Business Journal:
One positive came from the performance of ESPN+. Overall, Disney’s direct-to-consumer segment “saw revenue grow 41% year-over-year to $4.9 billion, while its operating loss fell from $751 million in Q4 2019 to $580 million this year,” per TechCrunch. Disney attributed the shrinking losses to “improved results at Hulu and ESPN+, partially offset by higher costs at Disney+, driven by the ongoing rollout.” Disney revealed ESPN+ now has 10.3 million subscribers, “more than doubling from 3.5 million a year earlier.”
A big part of that is about the bundle of ESPN+ with Disney+ and Hulu, a bundle that essentially makes ESPN+ free if you pay for those other services. And both of those other services have had quite a bit of compelling content this year, and Disney+ now has more than 73 million subscribers, so ESPN+ is far from the leader here. But there are some notable things on ESPN+ as well, including the 30 for 30 archive (and some new films), a lot of the old ESPN.com commentary and analysis, and new studio shows and live rights. And it’s certainly notable to see ESPN+ continue to rise (especially now that it’s more closely integrated to the rest of ESPN following Kevin Mayer’s May departure), and to see it and ESPN cited as good signs for the company as a whole (which lost $710 million this quarter, but posted revenue of $14.71 billion, better than analyst estimates of $14.15 billion).
It’s clear that Disney as a whole has some issues going forward. They still haven’t been able to reopen California’s Disneyland thanks to COVID-19 concerns, and even their open parks elsewhere are struggling thanks to ongoing coronavirus impacts. (And that’s before you get to other even-more-impacted areas like their cruise lines.) And there are obviously concerns with ESPN as well, and that’s what’s led to moves like this month’s massive layoffs there. But, after years of wider Disney problems being blamed on ESPN, it’s certainly notable to see ESPN (and ESPN+ in particular) cited as a bright spot for the company. We’ll see what that means in the days ahead, but it does look for the moment like ESPN is far from the biggest concern for Disney, and like ESPN+ continues to grow at an impressive rate.